May 17, Women won four seats in Kuwait's
50-seat assembly, a first for the Gulf Arab state, in an
election that also saw liberals and Shi'ites claw seats away
from Sunni Islamists who have long played a dominant role.
The world's fourth-largest oil exporter wants to diversify
and revitalise its economy but several reforms have been held up
the standoff between parliament and the government.
Analysts say losses for the Islamists, who have helped lead
parliamentary opposition to the government's economic reform
efforts and tend to form alliances with conservative tribal
figures, may not be enough to end the long-running tussle.
The elected parliament has the power approve laws and
Kuwait's budget. It can also cancel major deals and projects.
Following is the status of key reform plans:
-- The last cabinet resigned in March, paving the way for
the ruler to approve a 1.5 billion dinars ($5 billion) economic
stimulus package through emergency legislation. The plan, which
faced some opposition in the last parliament, still needs to be
approved by the new assembly. Analysts say it is more likely to
be passed by the new parliament when it convenes for the first
time in June because implementation will already be underway.
-- In December, the government launched an investment fund
worth at least 1.5 billion dinars to shore up the bourse after
it was hit by the global financial crisis.
-- Last year, the central bank saved Gulf Bank (GBKK.KW),
the fifth-largest local lender by market value, and ordered the
bank to restructured. The Kuwait Investment Authority, the
country's sovereign wealth fund, bought a 16 percent stake in
Gulf Bank when it made an emergency rights issue.
PASSED BY PARLIAMENT
-- Parliament passed a law in October to guarantee bank
deposits after the central bank stepped in to save Gulf Bank
following derivatives losses worth $1.4 billion.
-- Parliament approved in January 2008 the sale of
loss-making national carrier Kuwait Airways [KA.UL] within two
-- Deputies approved in 2007 a government-sponsored bill to
cut tax on foreign firms to a flat 15 percent from up to 55
percent. Gains on the stock market will be tax-free for foreign
-- Parliament also approved a bill to outsource more
activities such as warehousing facilities.
-- Kuwait cancelled a tender to build the 615,000
barrels-per-day Al-Zour refinery, the country's fourth, after
deputies mounted opposition, citing alleged tender violations.
Kuwait said it had not cancelled the project, but did not say
when will issue a new tender. The new cabinet and parliament are
to decide on the fate of the $15 billion refinery.
-- Parliament has yet to pass a law establishing a financial
markets regulator to supervise and bring more transparency to
the Arab world's second-largest bourse.
-- Project Kuwait, a plan to pump more oil from northern
fields to help boost output capacity, has never made it beyond
committee level because of opposition from some MPs to the
involvement of foreign companies in the vital energy sector.
Kuwait's fields are off-limits to foreign investors. The
multi-billion-dollar project has been on hold for over a decade.
-- The government wants to speed up the sale of state firms
and increase the private sector's role in investments. Kuwait
also wants to privatise the oil sector to revitalise the
country's largest source of revenue. But parliament has yet to
approve a privatisation bill which has been in the works for
more than a decade.
-- The government has also said it wants to allow foreigners
to own property as they are allowed to do in some other Gulf
countries but no details have emerged yet.
-- Kuwait is seeking to create a regulator for the
telecommunications sector but no bill has been passed by
parliament so far.
(Reporting by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Louise Ireland and Lin